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Last week should have been the best of times for the NHL. Despite several apparent mismatches, not one of the eight series ended in fewer than six games. In the most startling upset, the Chicago Blackhawks, the league's top team in the regular season, were stunned by the Minnesota North Stars, four games to two. And at week's end, the St. Louis Blues, the NHL's second-best team during the regular season, and the Calgary Flames, the fourth-best club, were unexpectedly facing elimination in seventh games on Tuesday night, by the Detroit Red Wings and the Edmonton Oilers, respectively.
But these playoffs turned out to be the worst of times for the league. After a sane—for the NHL, anyway—regular season that seemed to support the league's claim that brawling is on the wane, ugliness erupted in nearly every series. To wit:
•Detroit at St. Louis, Game 2. Red Wing forward Bob Probert drew a one-game suspension for high-sticking Blues defenseman Garth Butcher and punching goalie Vincent Riendeau on the same play.
St. Louis general manager Ron Caron, who has a long history of press-box tantrums, responded to Probert's attack by saying, "[Probert] should be in jail," with-in earshot of several scratched Detroit players who were sitting in the press box. Probert, who spent six months in jail last year for cocaine possession, was defended by Red Wing goalie Glen Hanlon, who grabbed Caron by his tie. The scuffle was quickly broken up. Caron was fined $1,000 and barred from NHL press boxes for the remainder of the playoffs. The Blues organization drew a $10,000 fine. Hanlon was fined $100.
•Detroit at St. Louis, Game 5. Nine players were ejected for various high-sticking and fighting incidents as the teams set a playoff record for combined penalty minutes (298). Among the unsavory occurrences: Detroit defenseman Brad McCrimmon used his stick to knock out four of St. Louis center Dan Quinn's teeth; Red Wing defenseman Steve Chiasson walloped Blues winger Rich Sutter with a mean, unprovoked crosscheck to the back; and Butcher started a fight with Shawn Burr of the Red Wings after Burr had done nothing more than block Butcher's shot.
•Minnesota at Chicago, Games 1 and 2. A parade to the penalty box and an excess of after-the-whistle posturing made these games last 3:32 and 3:22, respectively, about an hour longer than the average regular-season game.
•Chicago at Minnesota, Game 4. Blackhawk goon Stu Grimson, itching to duke it out with his North Star counterpart Shane Churla, freed himself from linesman Mark Vines by slipping out of his jersey and pursued Churla in his undershirt.
•Minnesota at Chicago, Game 5. As North Star winger Brian Bellows lay prone on the ice after being knocked off his skates, Blackhawk defenseman Chris Chelios gouged Bellows's eye with his finger. Bellows suffered scratches to the cornea and blurred vision.
•Pittsburgh at New Jersey, Game 4. The Penguins' star defenseman, Paul Coffey, beat Devils defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov to the outside on a rush. Fetisov reacted by high-sticking Coffey in the face. Coffey suffered a scratched cornea. Fetisov said that the high-stick was an accident that occurred because he had slipped as he turned to chase after Coffey.
•Hartford at Boston, Game 5. Bruin center Bob Sweeney, whose left eye had already been blackened when it was hit with a puck earlier in the series, was lying on the ice grappling with a Whaler player when Hartford winger Pat Verbeek skated over and bloodied Sweeney by punching him in the same eye.